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Men’s Dress Shirts – Shirt Style Details (Collars, Cuffs, Pockets, Etc)
Over the past half century, the dress shirt has gone from being an undergarment to having a prominent place in many outfits. This is one of the reasons why today it is available in so many styles, colors and patterns. Whether your style is chinos or suit-and-tie, shirts are an essential means of expanding your wardrobe.
A shirt’s style signals a lot about the wearer’s intentions. A shirt with a button-down collar, left breast pocket, plain front and single button cuffs signals leisure, while a shirt with a turned down collar, no breast pocket, front placket and French cuffs signals formality. The beauty of adjusting a shirt’s style is that you can design it not only for the occasion, but also to compliment your unique features.
Men’s shirt collars are the most important style detail, both in terms of determining the level of formality of the garment and in how it flatters the wearer’s face. Button-down collars are the least formal and extremely versatile; they look great without a tie, but can equally support a combination of tie and sweater, blazer or sports coat. The wing collar, on the other hand, is reserved for formal wear and should always be worn with its accompanying pieces. It is the least versatile collar whose sole purpose is to signal the highest level of dress.
Most men’s shirts have some form of pointed collar, but there is huge room for variation here. While the standard peak collar looks good on most men, those with narrower faces do better with slightly shorter ones, while round faces wear far over long collar points. As a general rule, the greater the angle between the short sides of the collar points, the more formal the presentation. Spread collars, which leave a wide opening between them, accommodate large tie knots particularly well. The edges of the cut collar form almost a straight line above the tie knot; this is the most formal collar arrangement. An exception to the parallelism of spread and formality is the tab collar: here, small tabs of fabric extending from each side join behind the tie knot, holding the collar tightly together and projecting the knot outwards for a precise, no-nonsense look. The white contrast collar, in any style, with or without matching white French cuffs, is a favorite among power-dressers. While it certainly elevates a suit and tie above the masses, let the wearer be warned against it if he can’t measure up to its eminence.
On most decent shirts, the points of the collar are held straight by collar stays. These 2- to 3-inch pointed rails are inserted into slits on the underside of the collar after ironing and are later removed for washing. Besides the plastics that come with most shirts, you can buy them in brass, silver, and even ivory, but their material has a negligible effect on their function.
Barrel cuffs, which are standard on most shirts, come in a variety of styles and, except for the most formal occasions, are never a bad choice. The regular variety has a single button; cuffs with two or even three buttons are somewhat more elaborate. French cuffs are the rigor for formal wear; they look great with a suit but are always optional. A button in the sleeve post helps the sleeve stay closed during use and can be opened to iron the cuffs; it is optional but almost ubiquitous.
The traditional left breast pocket adds some depth to a shirt, especially if worn without a jacket and tie, and can be useful for holding pens, tickets and the like. A shirt without pockets can look a little cleaner with a coat and tie, but since the coat covers the pocket, the difference is minimal when wearing a suit. As with most things, simplicity equals formality, so the pocketless shirt is the dressiest.
Shirt Front & The Placket
The standard post is a strip of fabric raised from the front of the men’s shirt with stitches down each side; this is what most casual shirts and many shirts have. In the more modern French halter, the edge of the shirt front is folded over, curled, and held together only by the buttonholes. This cleaner front sharpens more formal shirts; however, it should not be combined with a button-down collar. There are also hidden button closures, and as the name suggests, the front buttons hide under a fabric cover.
Men’s backs are not flat; That’s why we use pleats on the back of a shirt so that the fabric can hang from the shoulder piece (the piece that covers the shoulder blades) and better conform to the body. There are two common varieties of pleated shirt back styles: the box pleat consists of two pleats spaced an inch and a half apart in the center, while the side pleat is halfway between each edge and the center of the back. While the former are more common on ready-to-wear shirts, the latter better suits the actual shape of the back, and thus suits most men better. A well-made tailored shirt can be cut and sewn to fit its wearer perfectly without pleats, making it cleaner and easier to iron. Nevertheless, many men prefer to have pleats themselves on their tailored shirts.
A man may choose to have his shirt monogrammed, usually on the edge of the breast pocket or on the shirt cuff. Monogramming originated as a way to identify one’s shirts in a commercial laundry, similar to writing a child’s name on the tag of their jacket. More recently, as the shirt has taken a more prominent role in men’s dress, the monogram has emerged as a way to subtly communicate the care a man has taken to get his clothes. While big, flashy monograms certainly do more harm than good, many men enjoy the quiet display of their initials, usually in a color similar to the shirt’s own.
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